The Un-Vegas Las Vegas Guide
It will always wear the crown of being destination #1 for bachelors and spring breakers, but Vegas also has the honor of being a major business conference destination—and for those visiting for work, the incessant casino noise and 24-hour-party energy can feel overwhelming and distracting. Venture off the Strip, though, and you’ll find the city itself is full of alternatives—non-claustrophobic spots to eat, drink, play, and rest—you just have to know where to look. And as an undersold bonus, the surrounding desert is home to some of the country’s most compelling nature. Below, our picks for a more low-key, non-toxic stay, with a few imperative pit-stops on Vegas’s main drag for some of the country’s most compelling food.
Valley of Fire29450 Valley of Fire Rd., Moapa Valley | 702.397.2088
This State Park is an easy drive along I-15, about an hour north of Vegas. The park gets its name from the gorgeous red and orange sandstone rock formations (in some places, they’re a pink/orange color that looks more sorbet than desert) that wind through the park in the form of slot canyons and oddly shaped arches. There’s plenty of space for hiking and camping—the stars are insane—and a visitor center to help make sense of the petroglyphs and ruins that document human activity on the land. They also have vintage photographs of film crews making movies in the park, which is a favorite Hollywood set for approximating martian planets.
Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon1644 Nevada Hwy. | 702.293.6885
Ok, so it might be a tiny bit cheesy, but this huge, grown-up zip line is really, really fun. Riders take a bus from Boulder City up to the top of the course and zip line alongside as many as three friends for a good 1½ mile stretch. It offers gorgeous views of both the city and the surrounding mountains, and there’s a decent chance you’ll see some big horn sheep along the way. It's also a perfect excursion for those with brave kids.
Neon Museum770 Las Vegas Boulevard N., Downtown | 702.387.6366
This outdoor museum has an amazing collection of neon, including the original Moulin Rouge sign, the Stardust sign, and the Golden Nugget, which dates back to the 1940s. Since the museum has neon dating from the 1930s through the present, it’s a fascinating way to learn about the history of the city. Visitors are required to take a guided tour, so it's helpful to book in advance (even if they’re sold out online, they usually hold a few tickets for walk-ins). And while it's tempting for obvious reasons to visit at night, the deserted, vintage feel makes the place just as interesting during the day.
Hoover Dam and Lake MeadUS Highway 93 to Nevada State Route 172 | 702.494.2517
Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam make a good trip for a crowd with wide interests because there’s a lot on offer. History nerds will geek out at the dam—take the long tour, which is filled with all kinds of historical tidbits about the employees brought in during the Depression and how (astonishingly) the project was finished ahead of schedule. More adventurous visitors may want to access the lake itself: Ask your concierge to arrange a jet-ski or boat for the day to escape the desert heat.
Ethel M. Chocolate Factory & Botanical Cactus Garden2 Cactus Garden Dr., Henderson | 800.438.4356
Stop by Ethel M. Chocolate Factory on your way back into the city from Hoover Dam. The fully operational space allows visitors can walk through and watch the chocolates, brittle, and caramels being made and boxed in real-time through observation windows (needless to say, getting kids to leave isn’t easy). Don't leave without taking a walk through the beautifully-manicured, three-acre sanctuary, lined with countless native and foreign plant species. It's also home to The Living Machine—a natural purification system which processes 100% of the factory’s wastewater.
Grand Canyon Flyover
It doesn’t take a travel agent to understand that seeing the Grand Canyon by helicopter is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing (though it can't replace hiking down to the bottom and camping out). There are lots of different outfits and they can be difficult to distinguish, so it’s best to book through a concierge. Ask for a sunset tour, which will fly over the canyon and land along the river for a picnic lunch. Time the ride home correctly, and you'll catch views of the sunset over the canyon and the strip lit up in the darkness. For an entirely different experience, ask about sunset tours on horseback.
Red Rock Canyon3205 State Route 159 | 702.515.5350
The little-known Red Rock Canyon is a protected conservation area to the West of the city along the edge of Summerlin. It’s actually the easternmost section of the Mojave desert, which means you can see much of the same wildlife, including bighorn sheep, wild burros, and (at the visitor center, or if you’re very lucky) desert tortoises. There’s plenty of hiking and exploring to be done, but it’s also a popular local spot for mountain biking and rock climbing. Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, located in the center of the conservation area, is home to a history-filled ranch house which, unsurprisingly, was home to several famous residents. The desert can get crazy hot in the summer, so this is definitely more of a winter destination.
First Fridays1228 S. Casino Ctr., Downtown | firstname.lastname@example.org
The historic downtown is having a bit of a renaissance right now, in part because of committed investment from Zappos executives (the company is based in L.V.), who acquired First Fridays– a street festival that takes place on the first Friday of every month–from its original founders, Cindy Funkhouser, Naomi Arin, and Julie Brewer. The festival is focused on art and food, with local vendors of both kinds lining the streets in huge numbers. It’s a great way to get a feel for the local art scene, which is much more accessible than what you’ll find at the overly formal galleries on the strip.
Omega Land Sailing3570 Las Vegas Blvd S. | 800.377.9774
If you’ve always wanted to try sailing, but the possibility of turtling a boat in rocky seas makes you queasy, land sailing is really the perfect alternative. The boats are outfitted with wheels, so they ride smoothly along flat desert floors. Wear long sleeves and don't forget sunglasses—it’s easy to get sunburned out in the desert with no cover. Pickups are available at Caesar's Palace or directly from the airport.